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Bernard Canavan

Bernard Canavan grew up in Edgeworthstown, Co Longford, in the 1950s. Illness prevented school attendance, but he read and drew pictures at home. He emigrated to England in 1959 with his father and worked in the usual unskilled emigrant labouring jobs on construction sites and in factories. He returned to work in Dublin as a graphic artist with a display and advertising agency before finally settling in London as a free-lance illustrator for most of the 1960s underground press: Oz, International Times, Cyclops, Black Dwarf and magazines such as New Society, Peace News and Tribune. He had two solo art exhibitions in London and won the Lowes-Dickenson medal and scholarship to Europe followed by a State Mature Scholarship to Ruskin College Oxford 1971-3, where he read for a Diploma in Social Studies, and after that a degree in ‘Politics, Philosophy and Economics’ as Worcester College, Oxford.
Canavan’s paintings are figurative and deal with Irish and emigrant life; in particular of the make do life of Irish people in the UK in the 1950’s and 1960’s. In this exhibition, which could be described as social realism, we see the pain of women and men, girls and boys, leaving home for an unknown destination for the first time and records the change they felt moving from rural Ireland to the big anonymous atomised city. We see the indignity of the boat train, the apprehension of the new arrivals, the harshness of the building sites, the limited horizons, the crowded pubs where men went ‘home’ to drink their dinner, how big men were worn down. This was a different world where men did not always look after themselves, a world of subbies, piece work, being ‘on the lump’, of tunnels.